In general, people tend to simply max out their profit.

In the process to max out their profit, humans have this peculiar cognitive function, called sense of morality.

We have no idea how it evolve but it seems to have some function and affect their behaviors. Somehow.

I want to know how this strange cognitive function affect humans behavior?

For example, most of us don't just grab fried chicken and run away. We sense that it's politically incorrect and not profitable. However, some may think it's just wrong and don't do it anyway without thinking if it's profitable or not. Or do they?

It seems that people are more willing to negotiate if they think those who pressure them have earned their profit "rightfully". People are more likely to condemn if they think what others do is wrong.

But that seems to be a very amateur observation.

When we see someone put gun on someone's head, we are more likely to think, we should punish this robber rather than thinking what does he want. On the other hand, people are more willing to pay tax that goes to welfare recipients. That's probably because we think that robbing is wrong, while voting for welfare is right.

In general, how does our sense of right and wrong affect our behavior and how does that lead to our individual profit or our selfish genes?

The 2 things I have in mind is

  1. People tend to do what's right
  2. In conflict, people tend to side with those they think is right. For example, if a thief is beaten up to death, conservatives would side with those who protect their properties while liberals would side with the thieves.
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I don't get the logic of your post and what you are asking. First, it seems, you talk about financial decision making and you observe that it depends on how people morally rate their opponents in negotiations. Then you give two example situations where people usually think they are morally wrong/right. I don't see how the two parts relate to each other. A trivial answer to "How do people's moral beliefs affect behaviour?" would be "They tend to rather do what is morally right." but I guess this is not the answer you are looking for. Maybe you can clarify that a bit more. $\endgroup$
    – awakenting
    Aug 3, 2016 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ they tend to do what's right. They tend to side with people that they think is right. That sort of thing. $\endgroup$
    – user4951
    Aug 9, 2016 at 8:03
  • $\begingroup$ This seems a bit broad imho. $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Aug 9, 2016 at 13:38

1 Answer 1


This is an interesting question which seems that even the experts are still investigating it to a degree.

Take a look at the links I provide in this answer and look at the conformity studies like the Milgram Experiment and the works of Dr Phil Zimbardo with his Stanford Prison Experiment and his book on The Lucifer Effect (a study of the Psychology of Evil and heroism) etc.

Stanley Milgram tested earlier conformity studies by Solomon Asch to see what extent the experiment can reach.

It seems that even though there are a few who are an exception, there are those with high moral standards who can be swayed into doing something bad. Especially when their actions are "justified" by someone in authority or seem to have more knowledge of the situation.

There seems to be a fine line which can be very blurry to a degree. For a rather pessimistic view on society have a look at this article.

  • $\begingroup$ Note that both the Stanford Prison and Milgram Experiment have been widely discredited, so I probably wouldn't recommend them for any valid conclusions. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Jan 4, 2022 at 5:52
  • $\begingroup$ They have been heavily criticised @ArnonWeinberg, but the criticism does not take anything away from the fact that some in the Milgram Experiment did take the conformity to deadly levels and the Stanford Prison Experiment was controversial because abuse was meted out which was not stopped until someone else intervened. Nevertheless, again, it showed how people can, and will, take things to extremes. Even those with strong morals. $\endgroup$ Jan 4, 2022 at 6:36
  • $\begingroup$ Do you have any references to back up your claims? SPE was basically staged, and Milgram's data was heavily manipulated. Making conclusions about human behaviour from such studies is no better than using a Harry Potter movie. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Jan 4, 2022 at 18:30
  • $\begingroup$ @ArnonWeinberg - "SPE was basically staged" the prison was a makeshift prison, but the abuses were real. When you watch the recordings from the Milgram Experiment (freely available on YouTube) you can see the participants continue into dangerous ground, even when anxious about it. As stated before, although not replicated, for one it would be unethical, there is irrefutable evidence as far as I have seen $\endgroup$ Jan 4, 2022 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ Re "the abuses were real" - do you have any references to back that up? It's worth reading through the references that I provided, and doing your own research. If you read about it, then you'll see that participants were coached, they faked drama, and several (uncoached) partial replications failed to reproduce the results. Apart from Zimbardo, no one in the scientific community gives any merit to SPE - ie, my statement is not a controversial one. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Jan 4, 2022 at 19:07

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